Protecting our blue skies for a healthy community!
Grant Funding & Business Assistance
Compliance & Customer Assistance
Monitoring & Reporting Air Quality
Clean Fuels & Transportation Alternatives
Protecting Your Health

Woodburning Tips

How to Build a Clean, Efficient Fire

Campfire Etiquette Guide

Fireplace and Wood Stove Etiquette Guide

Build a small, HOT fire first to preheat the firebox and chimney...

  • Open damper wide—always make sure it is open enough to ensure an adequate oxygen supply to the fire.
  • Leave a thin layer of ash for insulation.
  • Crumple a few sheets of nonglossy white paper or uncolored newspaper and add some small pieces of kindling, then light. Add bigger kindling as fire grows. When hot coals are visible, add 2 or 3 logs close enough together to keep hot, but far enough apart to let sufficient air move between them.

Burn Only Seasoned Firewood

“Seasoned” firewood contains little moisture and creates less polluting “smoke” when burned. It should be dried for 6 to 12 months minimum. When buying “seasoned” wood look for the following:

  • Wood should have dark colored, cracked ends, with cracks radiating from the center like bicycle spokes.
  • Wood should be light in weight with little moisture left. Note: hardwood logs are heavier than softwood.
  • Pay attention to the sound of wood when two logs are hit together. Dry wood sounds like a bat hitting a ball. Wet wood makes a dull “thud” sound.
  • Peel back bark and make sure no green is showing under the bark.

Burn a Mixture of Hardwoods and Softwoods

Start your fire with softwood kindling like pine or fir. It ignites easily, burns fast and hot and will heat the firebox and flue quickly. Then burn hardwoods (eucalyptus, almond. apple cherry etc.). Hardwoods are denser and take longer to ignite, but burn slower and more evenly, producing less smoke. They also provide more heat energy than softwood logs the same size.

Light and Refuel your Fire Quickly and Carefully

Smoldering fires cause as much as six times more pollution than hot, clean fires.

Maintain your Fire Properly

Look for a thin stream of white smoke coming from your chimney. IF YOU SEE BILLOWS OF DARK SMOKE, YOU ARE CAUSING UNNECESSARY POLLUTION! Adjust your fire to burn cleaner. Follow stove manufacturer's instructions carefully.

EPA Standards for Clean and Safe Woodburning

The EPA's Burn Wise program has recently developed three new videos to promote cleaner wood-burning. The videos highlight the health effects related to PM exposure from residential wood smoke. 

Wood Smoke and Asthma: Breathe Easier

Wood Smoke and Asthma: Reduce Smoke

Wood Smoke and Asthma: Dry Firewood

Additional Tips: 

Burn Safely and Legally

It is illegal and dangerous to burn garbage, plastics, rubber, glossy paper, oil, painted or treated wood, particleboard and plywood. Smoke and fumes from these items can be toxic and dangerous to your health and the health of your neighbors.

The Environmental Protection Agency began certifying all new fireplace inserts and freestanding woodstoves in l 988. These stoves have from 70 to 90% less particulate matter (smoke) than conventional stoves. Look for the EPA Certification when you buy a new fireplace or woodstove.

If you have an old (pre 1987) woodstove or fireplace you need to be especially conscientious about burning clean fires and may even want to consider investing in less polluting ways of heating your home. Some alternatives include:

  • Heat with natural gas or install gas fireplaces. Gas inserts burn cleaner, are convenient to use, inexpensive to operate and provide a good source of heat.
  • Burn “firelogs” which are made of dry, pressed sawdust (some contain wax). These “logs” burn slowly at high temperatures and produce less smoke. CAUTION: “firelogs” burn very hot. Follow manufacturer's instructions carefully.
  • Invest in a new woodburning appliance that meets APCD and EPA emission standards. These clean burning units are fuel efficient and cost effective.

Other Heating Tips

Burn Less Wood

Weatherizing your house can reduce your heating needs. Install ceiling insulation, caulk around windows, doors, pipes, and other openings in the house. Weatherstrip all door and window openings and consider installing double-paned glass, and/or insulated draperies.

Keep Warm Air in the House

Close the damper tightly when stoves and fireplaces are not in use to keep warm air from escaping. Also, close doors to unused rooms.

Keep your Woodstove or Fireplace Properly Maintained

Regular maintenance of your stove or fireplace will protect you from fire hazards and ensure a clean burning, efficient operation.

Contact us for more information on this topic